How To Build a Resilient Design: Make it Smaller, Higher, Stronger and Warmer

Minot, North Dakota, June 2011 by DVIDSHUB/CC BY 2.0

Resilient design is a step beyond what we think of as green design; it's also bulletproof. I covered Alex Wilson's article on resilient design at BuildingGreen in an earlier post; since then it has grown into a fascinating series that's worth reading, and that isn't behind the BuildingGreen paywall. The series started with Making the Case for Resilient Design

It turns out that many of the strategies needed to achieve resilience--such as really well-insulated homes that will keep their occupants safe if the power goes out or interruptions in heating fuel occur--are exactly the same strategies we have been promoting for years in the green building movement.

It then gets into the details, with Resilience: Designing Homes for More Intense Storms:

As the planet warms over the coming decades, precipitation will increase overall--due to greater evaporation from bodies of water and, thus, more water vapor in the atmosphere--though there will be significant regional variation. Even in areas that see a drop in precipitation (an expected trend in much of the western U.S., for example), the rain that does fall is expected to increasingly fall in deluges. So, we need to prepare for more Hurricane Irenes and the resultant flooding.

Resilience: Designing Smarter Houses is, I think, one of the most important posts; it stresses the importance of building in the right place, at the right height, but also with appropriate materials and scale:

Building smaller houses makes sense for a lot of reasons: less resources to build them, smaller footprint on the land, and less energy to operate. From a resilience standpoint, if power is lost for an extended period of time or heating fuel becomes scarce or supplies cut off, smaller houses are easier to keep safely warm in the winter months using a wood stove or gas-fired space heater (some don't require electricity to operate, because they have pilot lights and pezioelectric-powered thermostats).

Resilient Design: Dramatically Better Building Envelopes points out the importance of insulation, of building a house that can survive with very little energy input.

In achieving resilience, I believe that our single most important priority is to ensure that our dwellings will maintain livable conditions in the event of extended power outages or interruptions in heating fuel. ...The most important strategy for ensuring that those livable conditions will be maintained is by creating highly insulated building envelopes.

Interestingly, Alex doesn't jump on the Passivhaus bandwagon, but recommends a lower (and more affordable) standard for both insulation and air tightness. In the comments, another expert, Robert Riversong, suggests that there is a danger in building too tightly; when the power goes out, so does the mechanical ventilation system.

Resilient Design: Passive Solar Heat makes the point that the sun still comes up every day, even if the oil delivery truck doesn't.

If we design and orient the house in such a way that natural heating from the sun can occur, we add to that resilience and further reduce the risk of the house getting too cold in the winter.

LA/Public Domain

The latest is a subject dear to my heart, designing properly to reduce the need for air conditioning. Resilient Design: Natural Cooling covers the issues of window placement, building orientation, porches and shutters.

Designers and builders in the south learned the principles of shading windows long ago. Traditional architecture in hot climates often included wrap-around porches that kept direct sun out of the house, while providing pleasant outdoor living space. (Part of resilient design is looking at how our grandparents or great grandparents built--and returning to some of this vernacular architecture that is so well-adapted to the local climate.)

I think that he missed a few points here in this section, which I have covered in 10 Overlooked Low-Tech Ways of Keeping Your Home Cool and More Low-Tech Tips For Keeping Cool.

The most important point in the entire series goes back to Alex's first line quoted at the top of the post: The strategies that make your home resilient are the ones that make you green. It is a really valuable contribution to the discussion at BuildingGreen.

Tags: Green Building | Housing Industry

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